Santa Ana Unified School District board member Cecilia “Ceci” Iglesias has accepted thousands of dollars in political contributions above the district’s limit, according to her campaign filings.
Santa Ana Unified’s contribution limit, which was approved by its board in June 2012, restricts school board candidates to accepting a maximum of $1,000 from an individual person each election cycle.
“No person shall make to any candidate for member of the Governing Board of the Santa Ana Unified School District, and no candidate shall accept from any such person, any contribution or loan which would cause the total amount contributed or loaned by such person to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) in any election cycle,” the rules state.
Iglesias, who is running for re-election this year, has accepted at least $4,900 in excess of that limit, according to her campaign finance reports. She also accepted $5,000 from real estate investor David Horowitz this March and $1,900 from Newport Beach resident Linda Sparr in 2014, her reports state.
In addition, Iglesias reported receiving $5,073 from the Lincoln Club of Orange County PAC in March and $5,000 from the Grow Elect PAC in February. It’s possible, however, that the limit doesn’t apply to these political action committee contributions, because the district’s rules say they apply to donations from a “person.”
Iglesias says it’s okay for her to accept contributions over $1,000 from individuals because the district’s top attorney, Jim Romo, wrote in August 2014 that the limit can’t be enforced and is voluntary.
“It’s not enforceable,” Iglesias said in an interview. “It just didn’t seem like…I had to be complying with something that [is not] enforceable. It’s just more like a document that was passed before I got on the board.”
She said she has no plans to return any of the money from donors who contributed more than $1,000. “It’s something that is fair, and it’s something that is not illegal,” she said.
Iglesias will likely not face any repercussions from her decision. The district’s policy doesn’t have an enforcement mechanism and doesn’t require excess money to be forfeited.
Romo, the district’s attorney, didn’t respond to messages from a reporter regarding what happens when a violation occurs and whether the $1,000 limit applies to contributions from political committees.
Nonetheless, an Aug. 22 letter from Superintendent Stephanie Phillips to candidates makes clear that the district takes the $1,000-per-donor policy seriously.
Attached to Phillips’ letter are the board’s “policies and bylaws” regarding contribution limits. Among those documents is the 2012 board resolution establishing that “no candidate shall accept” more than $1,000 from a single person in each election cycle.
Phillips also included board bylaws stating that “the Board believes that the district and community will be best served by imposing a limitation upon campaign contributions in accordance with” the 2012 resolution.
When city or county candidates exceed contribution limits, they usually return the excess money or donate it to the general fund of the agency they’re running for. If the violation is deemed to be willful, the local district attorney is often able to issue fines on top of that.
One of Iglesias’ opponents in the November election said her stance sets a bad example.
“Violating policies or picking and choosing which policies to follow sends a bad message to parents, teachers and school employees,” said Rigoberto Rodríguez. “How can Cecilia be a policy maker and expect people to follow them when she isn’t following her own rules?”
Contribution limits are rare at the school district level. Santa Ana Unified and Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego are among the few in California that have specific policies, according to a recent statewide analysis prepared for a Northern California school district.
The San Diego district’s rules stipulate when candidates take money in excess of its limit, they must transfer the extra amount to the district’s general fund. Their local district attorney’s office can also investigate repeated violations.
While most of this year’s Santa Ana Unified board candidates haven’t filed reports yet, two have reports online from the 2014 cycle: Rigoberto Rodriguez and Angie Cano, who is supported by Iglesias in this year’s election. Both stayed at or below $1,000 per donor, according to their filings.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.